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By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

Murky bill moving through Legislature

 

TVW.com

SPEAKING ON THE BILL: Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter testifying Friday at the State House Finance Committee on Bill 2156.

Remaining legislative action in Olympia before the session closes includes prospective changes in marijuana tax distribution and possible new taxes for cities and counties.

Bill number 2136 proposed what it calls more equitable distribution of tax funds from marijuana sales in the state, including more to municipalities and counties. The bill has 13 amendments saddled onto it and fairly strong support. Marijuana businesses are calling it a sign of growing acceptance of pot sales; detractors are calling it lipstick on a pig.

Meanwhile a bill moving almost clandestinely through the state Legislature may be setting Washingtonians up for a tax ambush. Bill number 2156 is so under the radar that as of yesterday visitors to the Washington State Legislature web site, where specific bills can be searched and found, could not retrieve anything other than a single title page (under "Original Bill") and a digest of the bill so broadly worded and devoid of specifics as to be meaningless.

But the intent of the bill becomes clearer when the video of the House Finance Committee hearings on the bill is viewed. The video (available at http://www.tvw.org/ index.php?option=com_tvwplayer&eventID=2015040132) shows the committee hearing from numerous people on both sides of the issue-which, it turns out, is proposing broader powers of counties and municipalities to tax, particularly in regard to public utilities. Beyond that the issue gets very fuzzy.

Hidden in the ambiguous digest of the bill lurks the prospect of internet use tax.

There isn't a mention anywhere in the digest about taxing internet use, though some Olympia insiders say the term has been heard in connection with the bill. Once heat was raised over the thought of internet use being taxed, it was not raised again-although not necessarily totally abandoned. And 2156 is so shrouded in vagueness that it virtually ensures suspicion.

Some observers say that 2156 wouldn't dare allow the state to tax internet use when federal law currently does not allow such a thing-but in this post I-502 world in which the state flaunts federal law as it chooses, anything is possible.

Among those testifying and seen in the Finance Committee video is Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter. Sauter's brief comments begin at minute 27:46 in the video, and he makes a case for the county's right to enact new taxes, even as he acknowledges it's somewhat against his Republican nature. He professes that the presently indeterminate taxes could be managed in a way so as not to overly encumber businesses.

Taking a directly opposing view before the committee were representatives of utilities and businesses arguing that taxes are already too intrusive. Tim Boyd representing Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities, pointedly remarked that county officials would have a hard time justifying new utilities taxation when 70 percent of their expenditures are in civil and criminal justice.

While 2156 seems to be drifting toward use taxes and a provision regarding handling the costs of providing public records, county officials are clearly emerging on the side of allowing more taxation while utilities and businesses are worried about how far the arm of government could be able to stretch once they're given an extra inch.

 

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